Why Another Blog?

Over the years I have had various experiences in working with people. Some humorous and some not so humorous. If you know me personally, you know I enjoy a good, clean joke. In fact, some will say that it 'sounds like a Raymond joke' when they hear a particular kind.
True humor to me, is that which happens unplanned and unrehearsed. I believe that has contributed to my sanity over the 56+ years of preaching and working with the brethren. To try and have a positive attitude in life, to retain the pleasant and good memories of years past helps one physically, emotionally, and mentally. We read in Proverbs 15:13, "A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken". Again in 17:22, "A merry heart does good, like medicine. But a broken spirit dries the bones".
I do "love life" (1 Peter 3:10). God is truly my "refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 45:1). I enjoy an "abundant life" because of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me (John 10:10). I hope you find the following remembrances enjoyable and entertaining.

06 January 2014


We moved from Elba to Greenville, Alabama on Tuesday, May 27, 1969 to work with the Walnut Street congregation. Brother Don Earwood of Montgomery had been preaching for them until a ‘full-time’ preacher could be found. We attended the Wednesday night Bible study with the church. The elder of this congregation were Max Autrey, Woodrow Butts, Nelson Daughtry and Kermit Williams.

I had my sermon prepared and ready to be delivered following the appropriate number of songs and prayer. The telephone rang in the office and one of the elders left the assembly and answered it. Just before Kirby Phelps was to lead the church in a song prior to my sermon, an elder stood and made the announcement that Ann Faulk had died suddenly earlier that Sunday morning. The brothers and sisters were in a state of shock. Kirby and his wife Mary Lou were very close friends of Ann and her husband Bob Faulk. He could hardly sing because his heart was broken and filled with sorrow. My heart went out to him. When the song had been sung, l left my sermon outline on the front pew and walked up to the podium and spoke what was on my heart, a lesson about the uncertainty of life and that death was no respecter of age and I expressed the deepest of sympathy to her family. I believe Ann was only 42 years old. She and Bob had brought food to our home just a couple of days before her death. In retrospect, wisdom should have been used in announcing her sudden passing from this life until just before the closing prayer. Bob and I became very close friends the time we lived in Greenville.

The new ‘preacher’s house’ had just been completed when we moved to Greenville. It was located in a very nice neighbor across from the Country Club and golf course on Forest Court. I just imagine that some of the neighbors were hoping while the house was being built that it was not going to be a ‘Jim Walters’ house. Not! It had four bedrooms, three baths, a nice size den and a large dinning room. The carpet throughout the house was white as were the walls. Not good when a preacher, his wife and four children were moving in it. The clay was red and so were the clothes and the shoes of the children while playing outside. To say the least, we really ‘broke the house in’ for the following preachers and their families.

One Sunday morning I was preaching about Peter’s denial of the Lord and when the Lord had predicted when he would do it – when the cock would crow. Well I happened to place an adverb, had, before crew and in my mind I began to conjugate that verb and it was then I realized I was in trouble. A good teacher friend of mine was sitting on the second pew upfront and she was really enjoying my problem. I stopped my speech immediately and started over by saying something like “Peter realized what Jesus had said when He told him that he would deny Him when the cock crew.” Perfect in speech, I am not.

Claude Flynn had not been in Alabama very long before he was preaching in a gospel meeting for us at the Walnut Street church. He paid a compliment to our ladies when he said that southern women were the best cooks in the world; however, he stated that he had never been able to eat two vegetables – turnip greens and boiled okra. Claude mentioned that he had tried turnip greens by putting ketchup or mustard on them but he still did not like to eat them. Concerning boiled okra he said that he never liked to have anything in his mouth over which he did not have full control!

On Sunday afternoon, October 25, 1970, I visited a family south of Greenville for the first time because they had manifested some interest in the gospel. I did not know they
had a son who was in the Viet Nam conflict. While standing on the front porch a gentleman drove up and asked for the soldier’s parents. The father identified himself and received the telegram from the war department with the news that their son had been seriously wounded while in action in Viet Nam. The distraught father looked at me and expressed his belief that I had been sent to their home just at the time they received such sad news concerning their son. I know this experience moved me emotionally and caused me to record this incident in my log that occurred some 43 years ago.

I preached every Sunday morning on the local radio station while living in Greenville. Following our program was a preacher for some holiness group. I began a series of lessons regarding the miracles that Jesus Christ and the apostles performed in the first century. I also taught from the Bible that such miracles did not occur presently. Well, this preacher began to argue that they did occur and that he had performed some miracles. Not only that, he became very belligerent and to insult me personally. There were some times when I was so upset it was difficult for me to teach my Sunday morning Bible class. I believe it was at the local funeral home where I was visiting a family when I heard his voice. I knew who it was immediately, so, with my legs shaking, I walked up to this man who towered over me like a giant (as I remember) and spoke to him. I introduced myself and I said to him that I thought we should keep our debate on the radio in a gentlemanly fashion. That was a real lesson to me. With God’s help we can overcome our fear and face our foes.  From that time forward he never insulted me again while preaching on the radio.

There were some woods between our houses but our daughters made a path between our homes. Bobby and Mary Lou Terrell had a child named Angie and our daughter’s name was Angela. These two children became good friends and we became close friends with Bobby and Mary Lou and family and that friendship has continued until the present time. Bobby was a member of the country club and he got permission for me to play golf with him. I was a novice and he was a semi-pro in my opinion but I remember the day I really challenged him by ending up with the same score as his – 42. Not bad for part-time golfer.

It was on Thursday afternoon, February 26, 1970 that sister Frances Cochran, a close friend of my family, called and informed me that my father, Walter Matthew Elliott had died while cleaning a church building. My heart was broken. He was only 66 years old at his passing from this life. His funeral was conducted on Saturday, February 28, 1970 in the South Commerce Street church of Christ building. He was buried in the Unity cemetery on Sand Mountain near Henagar, Alabama.

 Now don’t get ahead of me in this story. You see I have always done some hunting, even when a boy. Living in north Georgia we usually hunted for small game like rabbits, squirrels and quail. Max Autrey was of the large Autrey family who lived between Greenville and Fort Deposit on old U.S. 31. They owned some 3,500 acres which contained plenty of woods, pasture land, some cultivated acres and streams of water. I asked Max if I might hunt squirrels on their property and he said that would be just fine. I was using my Dad’s old16 gauge shotgun with a full choke which was very good in harvesting squirrels. I began seeing what I thought were large chicken tracks but Max informed me I was looking at wild turkey tracks. Not only that but I began to see deer and that was the time my fiend when I became addicted to deer and turkey hunting. I killed my first turkey on the Autrey property and took it up to Max’s home and his sweet wife, Deane, had a lady to pluck the feathers and dressed out that turkey. I did not know how to prepare such a large fowl for cooking. But I was hooked, addicted or whatever you may call it but I have enjoyed looking for the evasive deer and wild turkeys since 1969.

When we moved to Greenville in 1969 the public schools were partially integrated with full integration to occur the following year. That was not a problem for our family. Wednesday, September 2, 1970, was the day for registration for the children who would be attending the school where two of our children were enrolled. Many of the parents who brought their children to the middle school were not happy and decided not to register their children and left. A committee of Kenneth Cumbie, Bobby Brannon and I conducted a meeting in the county courthouse to encourage parents to keep their children in the middle school where our children were in attendance. There were about 100 parents present. A new private school was planned in addition to the one already located in Greenville. I knew that I could not afford a private school for our four children. The elders of the Opp church approached me about considering the work there. My good friend Roger Dill had been preaching for them for some 51/2 years and he and his family were moving to Valdosta, Georgia. We made the decision to move after much prayer about the situation in Greenville. The Walnut Street elders understood our decision to move and our relationship with that congregation has been excellent over the years. I have always appreciated their understanding and brotherly love. I tell people that I conducted the longest gospel meeting ever for the Walnut Street church – 11/2 years!

19 December 2013


George Merritt is a good and long time friend of mine. He lives in Troy, Alabama, preaches in Ariton and has a nation wide radio program. We often talk via the telephone about the years when he lived in Enterprise and I lived in Elba and Opp during the 1960s and the 1970s. The field (Luke 8) was very fertile for the spreading of the seed (word) of the kingdom. There were some important reasons why the number of conversions was so great during the 1950s, 60s and 70s as per my memory. First of all, more non-members attended our gospel meetings and heard the simple way of salvation explained to truth seekers. 2. There were more brothers and sisters doing personal evangelism in the homes of people interested in learning more of the Word of God. 3. We were having numerous ‘campaigns’, especially in our larger cities but not confined to them.

It is the third method of spreading the gospel during the ‘campaigns’ conducted by brethren that I want to mention concerning the numerical growth of the church.  As early as the 1950s I remember brethren conducting these ‘campaigns’ which were really what we call ‘gospel meetings’ but instead of one congregation having them, several area churches would cooperate in the moral and monetary support of such efforts. That was true in the city of Montgomery. The congregations united together and would select an evangelist like Jimmy Allen of Harding College (University), V. P. Black or Harvey Starling to do the preaching. It was beautiful how brethren worked together for a common cause, the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. These ‘campaigns’ would be held in large buildings like the civic center in downtown Montgomery as well as in other mutual facilities. It was wonderful to witness the unity among brethren during those years. I love the passage in Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (KJV). Oh, how I long for the return of such unity as was found among us in such worthy causes during that era of time.

I want to mention some of the ‘campaigns’ that I worked in with the cooperation of other gospel preachers and interested brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t recall the exacts dates of the one that was conducted in Abbeville, Alabama but Roger Dill (who was preaching in Opp) and I drove over daily to assist in this good work. Perry Lucas was the local preacher. The town is located in southeast Alabama. The congregation was relatively small as were most of the congregations in the rural area of the state. We knocked on doors and set up Bible studies as we had opportunity. The fellowship with our brethren was wonderful. One day while all the workers were sitting in the living room of the preacher’s house where the Lucas family lived, brother Dennis Hines got his ruler out and began to measure the length of the picture widow. That rather excited Perry and he asked, “What are you doing”? Brother Hines replied, “I’m measuring for curtains because I am going to ‘roll you for your job”. That really caused everyone to enjoy a hearty laugh. Of course brother Hines was only joking with Perry but I still retain memories of the good times we had while working together.

In September, 1964, Charlie Boddy, preacher for the College Avenue, Enterprise, AL, and I worked in a ‘campaign’ in Albany, Georgia. Harvey Starling was preaching under his tent that would seat about 1200 people. This campaign was well advertized because it seemed that every home we visited the people had heard of it. During the week, Charlie and I conducted three home Bible studies. We used the Jule Miller filmstrips that gave us the opportunity to study the Bible with the individuals. We were showing the fourth film, GOD’S PLAN FOR REDEMING MAN to a very nice lady when suddenly she asked us to stop the film. She then declared that she had been saved because Jesus had appeared to her one night and she was sure that as a believer she was saved. I kindly asked her to permit us to continue viewing the film and she gave us permission to do so. When the film ended she quietly said, “I now know I should be baptized”. She was one of the three we taught that week and were immersed for the remission of sins.

We also had the privilege of setting up a home Bible study with a widow who lived in a ‘well to do’ community. Her home was very lovely and I remember how expensive looking her furniture was to this poor preacher.  There the three of us were sitting in her very nice living room and watching a filmstrip when all of a sudden there appeared a large South Georgia roach on the wall near us. It is amazing how that the nice lady, Charlie or I never saw that roach. It was as if it was invisible to all of us. For sure I was not going to say, “Hey, look there’s a roach!” Well, the story ended with the lady being immersed into Christ.

There was a sister in Christ who was a Christian but her husband, who was in the Air Force, had never obeyed the commands of the gospel but he agreed for us to study the Bible in their home. Following our study with him, he expressed his desire to give his life to the Lord and was immersed. Thus, this couple was united in Jesus Christ. It was indeed a happy occasion. Here is “The Rest of the Story” (Paul Harvey). I was spoke at the church of Christ in Arab, Alabama on Sunday night, October 19, 2008. While visiting with brethren in the foyer of the building and getting acquainted with them, a gentleman, James M. Norris, and his wife walked up to me and he asked, “Where were you on Tuesday night, September 23, 1964?” My mind began to work overtime trying to remember if I had performed their wedding or what. He then informed me that I was in his home showing the Jule Miller filmstrips and studying the Bible with them. He said that he had been preaching for years since leaving the Air Force. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. That event occurred 44 years ago during the ‘campaign’ in Albany, Georgia. He had learned that I was to preach for the church in Arab and he and his wife had travel several miles to see me. I was moved emotionally and I informed the congregation of this incident before delivering my sermon. I also told my co-worker, Charlie Boddy about meeting this brother after such a long time. I had unspeakable joy in my heart and I thanked God and praised the Lord Jesus Christ that we had the wonderful privilege of teaching this good man the gospel of Christ.

It was during the week of May 3, 1965 that Charlie Boddy and I travelled to West Monroe, LA to work during the first week of a campaign with Harvey Starling doing the preaching. We stayed in the home of a Christian family. The gentleman was a successful business man who died years later in an airplane crash along with other Christians. I remember him saying to us not to get lost in the city while working. I thought to myself, if I can find my way around his small mansion we would do just fine driving in West Monroe. The first week of a campaign seemed to me the most difficult. It was very hard to find people who were interested in studying the Bible with us in their home. We knocked on one door and the man told us to come in. There the gray haired man sat cross way in a large chair. He said that previously they have to take him to the “horsepital in an anvil.” Out of pure meanness in order to see the reaction of Charlie, I asked him to repeat what he had just said. Later Charlie asked me why I did that and I told him why. Charlie said he had enough trouble in refraining from laughing the first time and there I had to ask him to repeat his statement.

‘Dog days’ came early that year – literally. I have never seen so many dogs that were set on causing us bodily harm. Charlie and I had to practically walk back to back to ward off the canines that were attacking us. Doing personal work can be hazard to your health in some cases.

A tent meeting often attracts people from various backgrounds. There was one man who came frequently to the nightly meetings dressed in his cowboy suit. Everyone who knew him called him “Tex”. He suffered from a mental problem, they said. Well one night, Charlie and I saw a couple walking toward the tent with Bibles in their hand and I thought about what Philip ask the nobleman in Acts 8, “Do you understand what you are reading?” so I approached the couple and asked if we could study the Bible with them in their home and they consented for us to visit with them. So, Charlie and I went to their home the next night and when we arrived we found that Tex was present also. We learned that they were members of a denomination that immersed people like we did but not for the same reason. It came down, in our discussion, as to why people ought to be baptized. It was then that Tex said in a halting voice, “I know.” He said that the answer was in Acts 2:38. I thought to myself, The Lord is going to use this mentally handicapped person to reveal the truth. I told Tex to inform us what the passage said. He then began to quote Acts 2:18, “Then Peter said unto them, repent and be…be..be…believe.” I nearly dropped my Bible. We then learned that he was a member of the same denomination where the couple we were studying with attended and had been taught the same doctrine like they had been instructed.

One morning we were given a card with the name of a woman who might be interested in studying the Bible with us so we began to locate this person. We finally found the two story apartment where she lived on the second floor of the building. Before we reached the location you could see the screens on the windows and the porch had been damaged and the place looked unkempt. We knocked on the door of one apartment and the woman who lived there told us that the person we were looking for lived upstairs so she called very loudly the woman’s name. This woman came down to meet us and when she did I observed her appearance without prejudice. In kindness I say that she looked ‘a mess’. When she curled her toes over the steps I could see the rust between her toes. Mind you, poor people need the gospel like everyone else but this woman looked physically unclean and unconcerned about her spiritual needs. I thought, back then you buy a bar of soap for very little money and there was the river running nearby and so forth. We asked her about studying the Bible with her and her interest was about like the wall in front of me. When we got back in the car, Charlie…well let me tell you that Charlie was/is so sincere and serious about matters…and he looked at the card that requested us to write our impression about this person and he asked me with a long sigh, “What are we going to write?” I replied, “Let me have the card” and I wrote, “Dirty, dirty, dirty!”

It was not until the last day we were working during the campaign that we met a young college student who had studied the Bible and possessed a good knowledge of the Word that we finally had a decent discussion with her. The campaign continued for a total of about three weeks. I don’t remember the number of conversions that occurred during that time but I do remember the first week was like plowing new ground. We were very tired when we returned to our homes in Elba and Enterprise. Experience can be a good teacher.

The brethren of the Hartford church had completed a new building and it seemed a good time to conduct a ‘campaign’ in this small town several miles south of the city of Enterprise and near the Florida state line. If my memory serves me well (Brother Rex Turner, Sr. used that expression many times), Paul Tarence was the preacher and several other preachers and workers from different congregations came together to ‘knock on doors’ and set up home Bible studies. This was during the week of May 17, 1965. My family and I were living in Elba at the time. I do not recall the results of our efforts to reach people with the gospel of Christ but I do remember that the area churches of our Lord supported this meeting.

This ‘campaign’ was conducted the week of July 5, 1965. My good friend Roger Dill was the preacher for this fine congregation. He worked with the Opp church for some 51/2 years. He and his good family were well respected by the community. Ray Humphries was the preacher during this ‘campaign’. Ray was a former preacher for the Opp church. A number of preachers, along with other brothers and sisters in Christ worked diligently during this worthy cause. I had the pleasure of teaching and baptizing Mrs. Herrington, age 85, during the week.

The beloved Paul Simon was the preacher for the East Gate church in this city. He called me while I was living in Elba and asked me if I would come down and direct the personal work during a gospel meeting. This was in the month of July, 1966. I had the privilege of staying in the home of brother and sister Simon. I remember seeing brother Simon early in the mornings working in the flower garden. I do not remember the results of this effort. I learned on Tuesday, February 9, 1971, that brother Simon had been killed in automobile accident in Mississippi while on the way to the Freed-Hardeman College Lectureship.

This ‘campaign’ was conducted during the dates of August 28-September 2, 1966. Jerry Humphries was the preacher. Colin McKee and I worked together in trying to set home Bible studies and inviting people to attend the nightly worship assemblies. We were given a card containing the name of a young lady who had shown interest by attending some of the assemblies of the church. The card also contained her address so we went looking for her. We knocked on her door and she came to the screen door and spoke to us and we informed her who we were and why we had come to visit her. She was thankful for our interest but she told us that her husband wanted everyone from the church of Christ to know they were not welcomed at their home and that he had better not find us there. The young mother was very kind and I could sense that she did not feel the same way that her husband did relative to the church.

I had learned that there was a colony of Mennonites located several miles north of the city of Montezuma so I drove up to meet some of them. As I drove through their farms I could perceive that they were very successful in their vocation. When I drove up to one house I saw how neat the place and lawn were. An older gentleman with a beard welcomed me into his home. In our pleasant conversation he told me that I could grow a good beard and he even gave me a pamphlet that informed me that the Bible teaches that I should do so. The house was immaculately clean and there no radios, television sets to be seen anywhere. However I did see a water cooler in one room. We discussed the Bible for sometime but I did not change his mind concerning his understanding of the Word of God. The gentleman was very cordial and I enjoyed my visit with him.

Now, back to the young lady Colin and I visited the first of the week. Jerry spoke on the radio each morning but he had to leave for home after the Friday night session so he asked me to speak on the program on Saturday morning before I left for my home in Elba. I agreed and after the program, I decided in spite of what this lady’s husband had said, I was determined to make one more visit to her home and encourage her to obey the gospel. She had informed us that her husband drove a ‘butane gas truck’ for some company. Well, while I was speaking to her through the screen door I saw him drive by so I began to talk more rapidly, encouraging her to obey the gospel. The husband came driving by the second time and he stopped the truck and got out and was coming straight towards me. I said a quick goodbye to the young lady and then I walked up to him, extended my hand to shake his and I begin to say something like, “Sir, I want to tell you that you are fortunate to have such a wonderful family and I am glad to meet you but I am in big hurry to travel to home in Alabama” and with that I said, “I’m sorry but I must leave now.” I immediately got in my car and drove away. I did not give the husband time to say one word. My confrontation with him lasted only a few seconds. I rejoiced to learn later that this young wife/mother did give her life to the Lord and was immersed for the remission of her sins.

Sunday, December 4, 1966, the Elba congregation met in our new building located on the Troy Highway and across from the Elementary School. We had 425 people present for the special service that afternoon. Marvin Bryant was the preacher during the ‘campaign’ that began that night and continued through the following Sunday. We had 10 preachers and other brothers and sisters who assisted us in ‘knocking on doors’ and setting up Bible studies in various homes. During the ‘campaign’ there were 10 baptisms and 12 confessions of sins and request for prayers.

I am sure that scores of ‘campaigns’ were conducted in Alabama, Georgia and various states across our nation during the 1950s, 1960s and even in the 1970s and I truly believe this method of evangelism influenced hundreds of individuals to obey the commands of the gospel and be saved from their past sins. I have only mentioned some of the ones that I worked in with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The experience in laboring in the kingdom of God during these efforts enriched my life very much. It was a joy to meet and have sweet fellowship with those of “like precious faith.” To God be the glory

06 December 2013

Elba, Alabama ~ Part 3

A Lady Named 'Sweet'
Her name was Nettie Ruth Walker but everyone in the church called her ‘Sweet’ and that was indeed an appropriate name for this fine Christian lady. Once, during a gospel meeting, she took the visiting preacher and my family to a small cafĂ© downtown on the corner of the square. She had asked the owner prior to lunch time to make some homemade ice cream so we could have it for dessert along with a piece of cake. I remember also that you could see one of the employees shelling fresh peas. Such was the life in a south Alabama town back in the 1960's.

‘A Time To Talk and A Time To Sleep’
The story I am about to relate occurred during a gospel meeting with the Elba congregation, when brother Clyde Fulmer was their preacher. I had been asked to lead the singing and we stayed in the beautiful antebellum home of sister Mollie Loftin. We were sleeping in the same room and one night while brother Fulmer’s oscillating fan was quietly moving the air on a hot summer night, I was engaging him in conversation, a very long conversation about important matters, I am sure. Finally, brother Fulmer said with a rather authoritative voice, “Raymond, it is time for us to go to sleep.” Then there was complete silence, except for the humming of the fan.

A Hole In One, Maybe Two
No, this has nothing to do with golfing. It was during a gospel meeting with brother Fulmer that he took me over to Andalusia to a shirt factory where you go buy ‘seconds’, and even ‘thirds’. When the family and I moved to Elba we would often go to the shirt factory and buy ‘seconds’ and if the hole was on the tail of the shirt, Virginia would buy ‘thirds’ for me and the boys. You couldn’t beat the price of $1.25 or less, depending on the number of holes. It was reported that if a preacher in Covington and Coffee counties refused to remove his coat it was because he was wearing a ‘third’. I often related how our sons would answer the question, ‘what size shirt do you wear’ by saying, ‘14 and a half irregular’.

Breakfast On Brown Paper
It is amazing that it is the simple things in life that you often remember. As a member of the Elba PTA I had to travel a short distance north of town on the Troy Highway, where a gentleman had pits where we placed 39 pork shoulders and cooked them for the school’s Halloween party. We would sell the meat and the proceeds would go to help buy supplies for the school, etc. I might also mention that my shift began at 2:00 A.M. on a frosty fall morning. When the sun began to come up, someone said it was time for breakfast. The suggestion was made that a couple of the men go to the nearest country grocery store and buy some eggs and (pork) brains for breakfast. It was then that I requested instead of ‘brains’ that they could buy me some ham. We cooked the eggs, brains and my ham over the fire in the pit. We had no plates so I ate my eggs and ham on a slice of brown paper that we would use to wrap the pork shoulders. But you know, that was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had in the environment and atmosphere of a beautiful autumn morning in the rural area of Coffee County.

“Matt, Are You Finagling?"
It was the era of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and when politicians were running for offices in Alabama. Virginia and I had warned our youngest son, Matt, not to open the purses of the nice ladies he was sitting with before the worship assemblies in an effort to find some candy or chewing gum. As you can imagine, he did not heed our warning. One Sunday morning he was trying to open one of the ladies’ purses when Claire Winston asked rather loudly, “Matt, are you finagling?” and as quick as lightening he responded with “No, I’m for Wallace!” Of course, we had to delay the beginning of our assembly that Sunday morning.

A Kind and Generous Lady
Our daughter Angela was of the age that she could attend kindergarten but the money was in short supply for our family of six. It was then that a very sweet Christian lady by the name of Florrie Wright requested that she pay for the expense of our daughter enrolling in the local kindergarten. You never forget such kindness that was shown to our family by the good people of the Elba church.

“And Now I Present To You, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Williams" Or Was It Williams
I have performed scores of wedding ceremonies over the years but this one was different. You see, Glenda Williams married Douglas Williams on Saturday, December 18, 1965. When it came time in the ceremony to say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” and to present them as “Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Williams” I was having difficulty in really knowing who was taking whose name. Now, Glenda said that she was taking his name but I am still wondering after all these years. You see, in this modern age, a young woman will marry a man with a different name but will retain her maiden name after the ceremony. This really is confusing.  In the case of the Williams, their children, when they were asked their last name could say with all certainty that it was ‘Williams’. But, seriously, I believe that Glenda did take Douglas’s name and that is Williams, right?

Trailers, Trailers, Everywhere
When we lived in Elba during the years of 1964-69, Dorsey Trailers employed about 1200 people. The town was filled with retail stores and times were good. Some of the older people will remember that a ‘WATS line’ (Wide Area Telephone Service) was the modern method of communicating via the telephone and the President of Dorsey Trailers had one in his office. Using the ‘WATS line’ you could dial the number of a person, or business, in any state in the nation without an operator to assist you. One day Sarah Gunter, who was the president’s secretary, told me I could come to the office and use the ‘WATS line’ to make a call. And for the first time in my life I used the WATS line and I dialed the number of a friend who lived in Michigan. She answered the telephone and we enjoyed a short conversation. I really felt privileged that I was permitted to use the only WATS line in Elba and maybe in Coffee County.

Those Were the Days, My Friend
During those days, a person could leave the keys in an unlocked car and not worry that someone would steal their automobile. Well, there were exceptions. I had parked in front of the Post Office, which was, at that time, located near the Pea River bridge in downtown Elba. I had left the keys in my car and hurried into the Post Office to mail a letter. When I came out, and much to my surprise, I could not see my car where I had parked it! Had someone stolen my only means of transportation? How could this happen in this idyllic setting in a small south Alabama town? Who was the culprit? I walked around toward the east side of the square and there it was. My question was who did this? Who had played this trick on me? I soon saw a familiar face and whose grin was a wide as a football field. It was my good friend and brother, Hershel Williams. Even today he will tell you this story about the time he fooled the preacher and enjoyed a good laugh at my expense.

We Were Pioneers In Making a Moveable Sign
Since I mentioned Hershel in the previous memory, let me tell you that the two of us joined together to make the first sign of its kind in south Alabama. The idea was not original with me because I had seen a picture somewhere in the pages of a newspaper or magazine; however, I had never seen a sign exactly like this one anywhere to the best of my memory. Hershel, an artist and painter, took a sheet of 4x8 plywood and drew a man-like figure, the location, dates and time of the gospel meeting on both sides. I borrowed a small trailer from someone and Hershel secured the sign with wires so that it set in the middle of the trailer. I would move the trailer to different locations around the square, and elsewhere in the town, several days before the beginning of our gospel meeting. A few days before the actual beginning of the meeting, I would park the trailer in front of our church building on the Troy Highway. It was several years later that I began to see similar modern day signs with movable letters on them that advertised events, sales, and products, etc.

How Cold Did You Say It Got?
Would you believe that on Saturday night, January 29, 1966, the temperature in Elba, Alabama was 5 degrees! It was only 12 degrees when we assembled on Sunday morning for Bible classes and eventually warmed up to 24 degrees later that day. In spite of the coldness of the weather, there were 4 baptisms that morning. After home Bible studies with the Jesse Miller family, Magdalene and the children, Jerry, Brenda and Linda were immersed into Christ for the remission of their sins on that extremely frigid morning.  I am thankful we did not have to ‘break ice’ in some nearby pond for the baptizing.

Baptizing Jesse Miller, Arm and All
There was a reason Jesse was not baptized on Sunday. He had been seriously injured while working for the state of Alabama. As I remember, he was injured when a steel beam struck him in the chest and his left arm. We thought it best to wait until the cold weather subsided before we immersed him. It was on the following Tuesday, with the help of a couple of brethren we lowered Jesse down into the baptistery. Now, I must tell you, because his left arm was heavily bandaged, we wrapped plastic bags around the arm so that it would not wet the gauze or dressing. Well, when I immersed Jesse I noticed that his left arm was floating on top of the water because of the plastic bags. So, while I had Jesse under the water I had to reach over and immerse his arm as well. That was my first and only time of having to baptize a person in that manner. Ah, the memories.

Was It A Miracle Or A Mistake
It was either Monday or Tuesday of the week when my friend Boyd Murphree, another gentleman, and I were playing a round of golf at the local Country Club Golf Course. We were on a hill overlooking a pond of water and teeing off on hole number nine.  We all hit the balls just right and they landed on level ground near the pond. Boyd, who was an excellent golfer, hit the ball in fine fashion and it went flying across the pond and up the hill toward hole number nine. The other gentleman had a problem with the pond of water that was before him and the first two balls he hit landed right in the middle of a watery grave for expensive golf balls. Then it was my time. I was determined to show these fellows that I could hit the ball over hole number nine and half way to downtown Elba. I must pause right here and confess that I had a serious problem when I tried to knock the cover off that ball. I raised my left shoulder, topped the ball and hit it as hard as I could. That golf ball skipped at warp speed across the pond to the other side and up the hill. The two gentlemen stood in silence as they stared, completely surprised at what they had just witnessed. The news soon spread throughout the community that the ‘church of Christ preacher’ had made a golf ball walk on water. Personally, I did enjoy the publicity momentarily but I knew down deep inside that it was simply a mistake I had made when I raised my left shoulder as I swung that golf club. But you know, that ball did look rather strange as it ‘walked’ across that pond. Nah, it was just a mistake. Right?

Up, Up, and Away
Lamar Rainer, a friend of mine and president of one of the local banks, called me one day and informed me that some of the dignitaries of Elba were invited to fly in a helicopter over Ft. Rucker and adjacent landing strips for the ‘fix wings’ and ‘rotary wings’ ships. He said the group wanted to ask me to go with them. I suppose their reason was since I was a preacher things would go well with us and the helicopter would not crash while we were in it. I replied, “Well, Lamar, I will be as scared as the rest of you.” I believe the name of that helicopter was called a Huey. We flew to various fields and one, I remember, was Tac One near Pea River where we enjoyed a delicious lunch together.

 When we landed back on the main post later that afternoon,  we all were invited to go to the Officer’s Club where we could order whatever we wanted to drink (and I don’t mean Pepsi Cola) since we were on Federal property. There was also a delegation from Daleville with us. We all enjoyed the fancy food that had been prepared for us. I asked Lamar to go over to the bar and get me a soft drink and he did. Several from the Daleville group drank alcoholic beverages but I want you to know that not one person from Elba drank anything but non-alcoholic drinks. I do believe it was simply out of respect for me and I have always appreciated their action.

To Build Or Not To Build
There was an ongoing conversation about the need to erect a new building because we had practically outgrown the present one. I really don’t know if the business across the street in front of the church building had any influence on the decision to purchase property in a different location, but the Big R might have contributed to the brethren making a positive decision. I remember one Sunday morning when I was really emphasizing a point that all of a sudden you could hear very plainly the announcement from the Big R, “A HAMBURGER AND A COKE TO GO!” You know, it was hard to keep your mind on the lesson when your thoughts would be influenced by smelling French fries being cooked and thinking of a tasty hamburger.

The Decision To Build
It was on Sunday afternoon, May 15, 1966, during a special business meeting that the brethren made the decision to have Christian Builders Incorporation of Nashville, Tennessee construct a new building on the recently purchased property on the Troy Highway. All the brethren were in complete agreement with this major decision.

Financing the Cost Of Construction
It was common practice in those days to sell bonds at a good rate of interest to finance the cost of erecting a church building. For that reason, we needed to sell $90,000.00. On Sunday afternoon, July 3, 1966, a small group of brothers from the Elba church purchased $35,000.00 worth of bonds. That was truly impressive and almost unbelievable! I remember I opened an envelope one day and a brother from Florida had sent a check in the amount of $10,000.00 to purchase some of the bonds. This poor preacher had never held such a large check in his life and I think I was so excited that I dropped it on the floor in my office, but you can rest assured that I quickly retrieved it.

Last Meeting In The Old Building
This building was constructed during the years of 1921-22 when brother W.T. ‘Tip’ Grider was the preacher. We assembled on Sunday morning, November 27, 1966, for the Bible classes and the worship assembly for the last time. That evening we met in the new building that was located across from the Elementary School on the Troy Highway. Bittersweet for many, I'm sure.

A Day To Remember - Sunday, December 4, 1966
This was the official beginning of our meeting in the new church building. The attendance for the Bible class was 158; worship assembly, 215; Evening worship assembly, 100; the monetary contribution was $840.00.  John Wiley English led the first song, “All Hail The Power of Jesus Name”, during Sunday School. Fred Young also led a song. Gerald Tucker led the first prayer. Harris Winston made the announcements and Grafton Young led the singing during the worship assembly and I preached the first sermon. Special memories.

That afternoon we had an assembly commemorating the occasion of the new building we had constructed for the use in the Lord’s work and kingdom. Approximately 425 people were present. Brethren Clyde Fulmer and E. R. Brannan were the guest speakers.

Gospel Meeting and Campaign
Sunday night, December 4, 1966, we began a gospel meeting in our new building with Marvin Bryant serving as guest preacher. Also, additional workers (at least 10 preachers and others) came during the week days to do ‘door knocking’ and set up home Bible studies. The meeting continued through the following Sunday. There were 9 baptisms and 10 confessions of sins and requests for prayers. Never underestimate the work of the Lord when brethren gather.

The Hong Kong Flu
That was the deadly strain of flu during the years 1968-69. The family and I spent the Christmas holidays of 1968 at my wife’s home in Wildwood, Florida. Sister Slaughter had the flu and we brought it home to Elba with us. Virginia got sick first and developed a high fever as we started home. Before we reached Elba, we were both 'sick as a dog’. We made it to the office of Dr. Kimmey and got shots plus prescriptions. We went by the drug store, got the medicine and I drove to our home. That Monday night was something else. We took aspirin to help ‘break the fever’ and we perspired throughout the night. I think we must have changed the sheets on our bed 3 times that night. I personally felt like someone was driving a stake through my temples and even think the hairs on my body were aching with pain. All of our four children got sick with the flu also. We survived but the weakness of the body lingered for a long time. Sadly, there were many deaths due to the Hong Kong flu that winter in our nation. Virginia and I are very thankful we all survived.

A ‘Big Doctor' In A Small Town
This memory is worth relating and should be written as part of the history of Elba. Dr. Kimmey was our family physician. He was the brother of sister Clyde English and the brother-in-law of Judge J. O. English. Later in the week, while our family was suffering with the flu, he was in the Elba General Hospital making his rounds when he went to the cafeteria to speak to sister Mary Hutchinson, who was the dietitian. She later informed us of what he said to her and it was something like this, “You know the Elliotts are all at home sick with the flu and we need to do something for them.” Now, you talk about doctors making house calls, this one is for the records. I opened the back door after hearing someone knocking on it, and there stood Dr. Kimmey. In one hand he had a baked ham and in the other hand he had a pound cake! You talk about life in a small town! We have never forgotten this act of kindness. Years later when Dr. Kimmey’s wife died, I wrote him a long letter and I mentioned this very thoughtful deed of  his when he made a personal visit to our home during the week we were very sick.

And The Lord Added To The Church ... "
During the 1950's and 1960's the church of the Lord grew numerically with great rapidity. One of the basic reasons was the conducting of home Bible studies with truth seekers. We used Tisdale charts and Jule Miller filmstrips along with our open Bibles. I must mention that Harris Winston and Roy Fuller were wonderful co-workers during the five years we labored with the church in Elba. I can’t recall all the Bible studies we conducted but I can say that many souls were obedient to the gospel and others were restored to the Lord and His church.

Our Decision To Move
It was truly heart rending to leave a congregation of people you loved so dearly. We were privileged to work with some of the best people on earth during our years in Elba. The majority of one generation of brothers and sisters we loved so much has gone to be with the Lord.  Our last Sunday with the church was on May 25, 1969. We moved to Greenville, Alabama on Tuesday, May 27, 1969.

When we moved to Ozark, Alabama in 1960, we followed a great preacher by the name of Ray Humphries. Ray and Joan were good friends of ours. Ray is now with the Lord, having passed from this life in the year of 2013. When we moved to Elba in 1964, we followed Jerry Humphries, another great preacher and the younger brother of Ray. Jerry and Margaret are still serving the Lord and are very active in mission work. They are dear friends of ours also. I thank God that He has used us in His kingdom as preachers and co-workers together in the teaching of His Word and the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ.

28 November 2013

Elba, Alabama ~ Part 2

“You Don't Need To Do This, Come Preach For Us"
Our family had increased to six with the birth of our fourth child while living In Ozark. I was busy substituting for the city school system, especially in the middle school to supplement my income. One day while teaching, someone knocked on the classroom door and I opened it. There stood Harris Winston and John Wiley English from the church in Elba, Alabama. Before I could say anything but “hello”, they said, “You don’t have to do this, come preach for us.” I hardly knew what to say to their request; but to make a long story short, we did move to work with the church in Elba in the summer of 1964. I shall never forget those two brethren who became dear friends of mine and the day they found me in the middle school classroom.

Whistling 'Dixie'
We had never really lived ‘downtown’ before we moved to Elba but our house was located just off the square and we were living in a ‘fish bowl’ for sure. One night at midnight I was awakened by someone walking on the sidewalk in  front of our house, and I even remember the tune he was whistling! It was the song ‘Dixie’. I don’t know why I remember this event, but I do. And I smile.

Don't Look Ethel!"
Our youngest son was still in the ‘potty training’ period of his life when all of a sudden he broke free from his mother’s grasp and ran out the front door and around the house he ran! There you have it; the preacher’s son streaking in his ‘birthday suit’ for all to see. His mother finally got hold of him as quickly as she could and back in the house she fled with child in arms!

“Did You Catch It?”
There were times that sister Ham and her daughter Nell would keep our baby boy. One day, while he was playing with some toys in their home across the street from ours, Nell said she was going to the bathroom and do some work on the commode because it was constantly ‘running’. She was gone for some time and when she returned to the room where our son was playing, he looked up at her and asked, “Did you catch it?”

You Shot Him Where?
Tim and Joel had been playing with friends down the street when they returned home suddenly and into their bedroom they fled! Their faces reflected great concern and both were nearly in tears. It might have been thought one of them was on the verge of certain death or critically wounded. So as a worried mother would do, Virginia went into the bedroom and found that the younger brother had his pants partially down and both were looking to see if there might be blood showing. You see, the older brother had shot his brother with a friend’s BB gun by accident (I think) and they were investigating if there might be the need of a doctor. Where did our son get shot? It was the same area of his body where Forest Gump (in the movie, Forest Gump) got shot during the Viet Nam war. We are very glad he survived the ordeal and is still alive.

Elba Clipper, November 7 1968, 'Brainstorming With Ferrin Cox, Editor
“Minister Raymond, president of the Elba PTA, is not overly fond of the song 'Harper Valley PTA' and his delightful five year old son has gotten wind of this fact. He reportedly has told friends that his father was going to ride in the Homecoming Parade with the secretary of the Harper Valley PTA and she was going to wear a mini-skirt!” (For young people to appreciate this news article, click HERE for a YouTube version. This chart topping song was recorded by Jeanie C. Riley in 1968.)

I've Been Running On The Levee
Elba was a unique town. Built along the Pea River, it was joined by the White Water Creek in the northern part of the town. There is a legend that the people of the town had been told, by an old Indian, not to build in its present location because of a flooding problem. To prevent this, the Corp of Engineers had built a levee three quarters around the town. The preacher’s house was just across the street from the southern part of the levee. One day I asked a young man to measure off one half mile for me. He did, and that distance ended at the railroad trestle. I began by walking, worked up to jogging, and, when I got in pretty good shape, I began running as fast as I could the last part of that half of a mile. I would arrive at home wet with sweat (poor people sweat, rich people perspire). There were several homes next to the levee and one day I didn’t run. Concerned, one of the neighbors inquired of my health. I didn’t know that people were watching me run on that levee. I did loose several pounds and was in pretty good physical shape for a preacher.

‘Redemption Center’
Right across the street, and in front of the church building, was the Big R where you could buy ‘fast foods’. That establishment stayed busy all the time. I believe it was a news reporter from the Dothan Eagle that ate one day at the Big R and, as he looked at our building, he saw the sign with a slogan I had placed there. It read 'REDEMPTION CENTER, NO STAMPS REQUIRED'. Now only you who are older will remember the time when you could collect green stamps and redeem them for some product you desired to have. Well, the picture of that sign and slogan got on the Associated Press (AP) and was published far and wide! In fact, I received cards and letters from people who lived in various states stating they appreciated the wording on the sign.

How Old Did You Say Your Son Was?
A teller at the bank where we began to do our business died suddenly shortly after we moved to Elba. I believe she was only about 42 years old at the time of her death. As a matter of courtesy and concern, I went to her home to pay my respect to the family because she had been so nice to me. While in her home, I heard two elderly ladies talking about the ages of their sons. One lady mentioned that her son was born 6 months before the flood while the other lady explained that her son was born sometime following the flood. Well, with my sense of humor, I was almost ready to ask their ages but being the ‘new preacher’ for the church I controlled myself and refrained from showing my ignorance and embarrassing the ladies and others. You see, it was not ‘THE FLOOD’ Moses wrote about in the book of Genesis. I learned soon afterwards that the older generation in Elba reckoned time before and after the March, 1929 flood that did so much damage to the downtown and residential areas.

“Will You Marry Me?”
You have to understand the setting and circumstance in which I was asked this question. Virginia and I married in 1955, when I was asked this question during the time we lived in Elba, 1964-69. I regularly visited the Elba Hospital and one day while I was walking down the hall, I was approached by a lady who worked there. She knew me since I had been preaching in the area for a number of years and she was a member of a nearby congregation. When she was right in front of me, she stopped and asked without any explanation, “Will you marry me?” What could I say?! I did answer her in the positive but I had to practice self-control in warp speed because I did not want to embarrass her for asking me that question. You see, I knew she was really asking me to perform the wedding ceremony for the prospective husband and her. Sometimes a preacher has to think quickly on his feet and not to answer unadvisedly!

‘Fall Back and Spring Forward’
I believe it was in 1966 that Daylight Saving Time began to be observed in most of the states. The first Sunday it went into effect, my, my, my ~ people were absolutely confused! We were living in a different house at that time, located north of town on the Troy Highway. I had a radio program on WELB that began at 8:30 on Sunday morning. As I was passing our church building, on the way to the radio station downtown, I noticed a car parked in the lot and recognized that it belonged to Jim and Jessie Free. These good people knew that the Sunday morning Bible classes began at 10:00 a.m. but for the life of them, they did not know what time it was! They were determined to be present for the classes even if it meant they were one and half hour early!

‘Lazy Susan’
I am not talking about a person but a part of a dining table that revolves. It may have been the first time I had ever seen one and it was in the home of Carolyn and Lister Brunson. The lower part of the table was stable, that is, where your plate was located. The revolving part of the table was somewhat higher and that is where the delicious food had been placed. So the person would dish out the food of his choice, that was right in front of her/him, and when all who were sitting at the table had done the same, then someone would slowly turn the table in order for another group of bowls to be available for the fortunate person sitting at the table. In those days and especially during gospel meetings, the visiting evangelist and the local preacher and family would be invited to the homes of the members for a delicious meal. And I must say that the ladies of the Elba church were excellent cooks!

Elba, Alabama ~ Part 1

Never Say Never
While a student at Alabama Christian College and a member of the chorus, it was on a trip to sing at a congregation in south Alabama that we passed through the small town of Elba. I remember well the statement that I made. I said, “I don’t think I would ever like to live in a town in south Alabama”. You have to remember that I was born and reared in northeast Georgia among the hills, ridges and mountains. This part of the state was too flat and too far from north Georgia. Well, after four years working with the church in Ozark, the family and I moved to Elba in 1964.

“Downtown, Everything Is Waiting For You" ~ Petula Clark
The business district of Elba is built around the County Courthouse. Actually, it was a ‘square’ instead of being a ‘round’. The church building and the ‘preacher’s house’ were on the south side of the ‘square’. At last, I thought, my beloved wife was where she desired to be – next to all the retail stores. But, alas, she wanted to go to Enterprise or to Dothan to shop!

How Long Is That Tie?
Soon after moving to Elba, the church conducted a gospel meeting with Harvey Starling as the guest speaker. Harvey would fit in with Redwood trees! He is one gentleman I have always ‘looked up to’ – literally! Virginia’s curiosity got the best of her one day, so she asked him where he purchased the very long ties that he wore each night. She got her answer when Harvey showed her one of the ties and how that his thoughtful wife had sewed extra material to his ties so that they would be long enough to reach his belt buckle. Mystery solved!

“What Time Was It?”
Now, Harvey Starling is the kind of preacher that can get his listeners excited. As we often say, he could ‘lather up’ the audience. One night, as he was preaching about the conversion of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16) and the importance of being immersed when one learns the truth, he really came down on the question, “WHAT TIME WAS IT?” The Bible students that were in the auditorium answered silently as I did – midnight. However, one brother was greatly moved emotionally and shouted out loudly “MIDNIGHT!” His sweet school teacher wife began to turn ‘red as a beet’. After the meeting that night I told Harvey that he asked the question as to what time it was when the jailer and his household were baptized and this brother answered him in like fashion as he was asked – with gusto!

Better Late Than Ever
The preacher’s house was very close to the church building. It was the first Wednesday night after the gospel meeting and our first time with the Elba church for the Wednesday night Bible classes. The gospel meeting met each night at 7:30 p.m. so we figured that the regular Wednesday classes began at the same time. Wrong! It was about 7:15 p.m. and I could see a brother standing in a classroom from our bedroom. I thought that Bill was practicing his lessons for his Bible class. Virginia was getting the fourth child ready so I took three of the children and told her we would go a little early for the classes. Well, when I opened the door to the auditorium where the adults were present, there stood brother J.O. (Judge) English teaching my class! Here I was, the new preacher, and late for his class! Thankfully, the good hearted brothers and sisters understood my reason for being late and everyone enjoyed a good laugh and permitted us to stay five more years.

"Kissing Cousins?"
It did not take me long to learn that there were kinsfolk everywhere in Elba, and that included the church. In fact, I can still hear Fred Young say “after the next song ‘cous’n John Wiley will lead us in prayer”. In Coffee County, Alabama there are families whose names are Davis, Young and English, along with kudzu everywhere!

23 October 2013

More Ozark Memories

"That Suit Looks Terrible On You!"
If I remember correctly, those were the very words spoken to me by a faithful Christian widow and a dear friend, sister Ida Davis. We had moved to Ozark to work with the church where she was a member. I had bought a beautiful brown wool/silk suit while living in Savannah, Georgia but I had lost about 25 pounds and it no longer fit me. Sister Davis was a professional seamstress and she volunteered to alter the suit for me.
After I had carried the suit to her, at which time she measured me so she could alter the suit accurately, sister Davis became sick and had to be in bed for several days. I went to see her and while standing by her bed I glanced over to another bed in the room and there was my beautiful suit - one arm in one place, a leg in another place, etc. She had taken the suit completely apart. I remember what she said to me when she saw my concern,"Brother Elliott, I know you hope I don't die before I put your suit together again." She did get well and when I tried on the suit, it was tailored to fit me perfectly.

Sister Davis Was a Modern Dorcus
Sister Davis was a seamstress and a faithful Christian, loved and respected by all who knew her. I was in need of borrowing some money to help pay some bills that we had accumulated but did not know anyone personally in the banking business since we were new in town. Sister Davis did. I mentioned my need to her on one occasion and she called the manager of the bank where she did her business and related my needs to him. The gentleman informed her to send me to the bank and ask for him. I was able to see him that very day and, upon the reputation of this good woman, was able to borrow the needed money. I shall never forget her kindness and her trust in me, believing that I would repay my debt and this I did.
Postscript ~ Sister Davis attended the school in Highland Home, Alabama that was begun by J. M. Barnes, who had been a student of Alexander Campbell at the Bethany College. She was also a 'true southerner'. She named one of her sons, Thomas Jefferson Davis.

"And the Walls Came Tumbling Down" - NOT!
It was Sunday morning and I was teaching the adult Bible class, which met in the auditorium in the church building on Martin Street. We did not have air conditioning and so all the windows were raised in order to get a fresh breeze flowing through the auditorium. All of a sudden we heard the voices of small children marching around the building, being led by their teacher, Virginia Bradley. You see, Virginia had been reading to them about the walls of Jericho and she wanted them to act out the biblical story of Joshua and the children of Israel marching around that city. I think they marched around our building 7 times and I was so thankful that the block building, in which we were seated, did not fall!

Happy and Sad Memories
The city of Ozark was the home of Fort Rucker. Christians who were members of the military stationed at this base would find where the church building was located and the times of our various assemblies. Most became active in the work of the church and there was, perhaps, 40 percent of our membership made up of faithful personnel.

One Sunday morning a young man approached me about the teachings of the Bible. There were some questions in his mind about certain aspect of Christianity and he expressed those concerns. I gave him some material to read and later we had some discussions about those topics. Sunday morning, August 12, 1962, he responded during the singing of the 'invitation song' and expressed his desire to be immersed into Christ for the remission of his sins. His name was Robert N. Bradley, known to us as Bob. He later married Virginia Cole and they had two daughters. Following their stay in Ozark, he was stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Bob was a helicopter aviator. He was sent to Viet Nam during that conflict and, on one mission, his ship was shot down. Bob lost his life in the service of his country.

It was March of 1967 that Virginia called, while we were living in Elba, Alabama, and informed me of his death. Our hearts were broken. I flew to Michigan and was one of the speakers at his funeral, which was conducted in the church building of Swartz Creek. Some memories you never forget. I am so thankful that in the providence of God, Bob became His child but tears still come to my eyes when I think of his death, the wife he left behind, and two beautiful daughters he never saw grow to become adults.

Our Oldest Child Was a 'Kindergarten Dropout'
This particular kindergarten was free, so Virginia and I decided to send our oldest son. Well, it was only a short time before he declared that he no longer wanted to attend such a place. However first grade was required. Now, where we lived on Byrd Circle, you could see the elementary building but you would have thought it was a hundred miles removed because of the wailing and weeping of his mother as our firstborn was 'leaving home'. Our 'kindergarten drop out' is now Dr. Tim Elliott, a professor at Texas A&M.

Prayerfully, A Better Christian Than My Being A Golfer
Jimmy and Libby Murray and family were in attendance for worship assemblies but Jimmy was not a Christian. We became good friends and I wondered how to find the opportunity to study the Bible with him. I had tried my hand at golf while living in Savannah, so one day I approached Jim, who was a very good golfer, and made this suggestion, "If you will teach me how to play better golf, I will teach you more about the Bible." Without any hesitation he agreed to my proposition and informed me that on a certain day he would pick me up at 9:41 a.m. I thought to myself, this person is going to expect perfection by setting the exact time of 9:41! Why not 9:45 or 10:00? It was then that I learned a weakness of my good friend. He was, generally, never on time. Jimmy did become a Christian after several sessions of Bible study and, in time, became an elder in the church. It was a loss for us all when his life ended at the young age of 57, but none moreso, than his widow, Libby. Jim and Libby have three sons with a cippling disease. Two are married and one lives with a sister. I'm sure they all have missed a loving father and a fine man.

With Some Apprehension We Did Move From Ozark
Now you might ask why, so I'll tell you. You see, our oldest child, Timothy, was born in 1956 while I was a student at Alabama Christian College in Montgomery. Joel was born in the Ashland Hospital in 1958, when we lived in Lineville, Alabama.  Angela was born in Savannah, Georgia during my time preaching for the Garden City church in 1960. Matthew was born in 1963 while we lived in Ozark. Now do you understand our hesitancy?

We have been blessed with three sons and one daughter, but back to Matthew and his being born in Ozark. There were many individuals who thought Jimmy Murray and I favored in physical appearance. One day, while Virginia was in the Dale County Hospital (back then, they kept new mothers in the hospital for 4 or 5 days),  Jimmy went to visit her. He met a nurse at the door and she said something to him, like, "Since you are the father you may go in". I don't remember if Jimmy stuttered or not on this occasion but he got that impression cleared up in a hurry!

16 October 2013

Ozark, Alabama

Was It A Bird, A Plane, Or A Byrd?
When I informed the brethren of the Garden City church that we were moving to Ozark, Alabama, there was a misconception of exactly where we were moving, especially when I told them our new address would be 2 Byrd Circle. To many, it sounded like 2 Byrd Circle was somewhere in the Ozark mountains. I could feel the sympathy of some of the brothers and sisters who thought we were moving to a very remote area of the United States of America.

Two brothers came over to help move us to the city of Ozark. This was before most brethren in small congregations were using companies that specialized in the moving business. The truck was like unto a 'cattle truck'. Virginia recalls that Joel lay on his bed and hugged the mattress, not wanting the men to move it.

Anyway, we made the long haul in one day and got into our small house located at 2 Byrd Circle just off of White Avenue and across the street from Dr. Bob McLaughlin, who later became our family physician. We moved during the month of September, 1960. The church building was located on Martin Street, a concrete building with a new education wing built when Ray Humphries, their former minister, was working with the congregation.

I Didn't Walk On Water, But I Did Row A Boat
A good sister, a widow, came to the office one day and asked if the church might help her financially. This was the day that our church treasurer, elder Ogburn Smith, was not on his job at the local A&P grocery store. It was his day off. I learned that he was fishing at the Dale County Lake, so I drove there and saw him almost in the middle of the lake trying to catch fish. What could I do but get into a boat and row out to talk with him. This was the first time that I had ever tried to reach a brother in this manner, as we did not have cell phones in those days. Was he ever surprised to see the preacher coming his way paddling a boat!

There we were in the middle of the lake, boat to boat, discussing whether or not to help this fine Christian lady. But, come to think of it, Jesus even preached while sitting in a boat. The decision was a positive one and we did, in fact, help this widow. I hope brother Smith caught plenty of fish that day. Maybe it was not a net full but enough for a 'mess'.

Time To End My Sermon
Being much younger the four years (1960-1964) I preached for the congregation in Ozark, I often taught the teenage Bible classes. It is amazing how young people will express their feelings of acceptance to you. Well, while preaching one Sunday morning, all of a sudden, an alarm clock sounded in the pulpit stand. I was about halfway through my sermon at the time and simply hit the stand with my knee. Undoubtedly the clock fell over and stopped ringing. To this day, I am not absolutely sure which teenager set that alarm clock but I think I know. His mother said her son would never have done that. I will admit there is a need sometimes for an alarm to sound when some preachers prolong their sermons that can be immortal without being eternal.

I Was Still Alive After An Explosive Situation
It was at this same pulpit stand that something unusual occurred. Once again, I was preaching during the worship assembly on a Sunday morning when all of a sudden there was an explosion inside the pulpit stand. I thought to myself, 'I am still alive', so I continued to preach. After the assembly I returned to the pulpit stand and opened the door. The only thing I saw was a bottle of Welch's grape juice with its cap missing. Undoubtedly, because of the heat in the building (we did not have air conditioning at that time), the wine fermented and blew off the top, causing the sound of an explosion. You can understand why I became rather nervous while preaching behind that particular stand. I never knew when a sound like a mighty rushing wind might occur.

Big Bad John, I Mean Jess
It was during teaching one Sunday morning Bible class, that I noticed about halfway back in the auditorium Jess Bruton had stood. Now, Jess stood approximately 6' 2" inches tall. His copy of the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary was doubled and he began approaching me, moving slowly, with the book in his right hand. Let me tell you now that you can speak on one subject while your mind is thinking on something else! I don't remember what I was saying, but I can tell you what I was thinking, "What is Jess going to do with that book!"

I stood there without moving, although I must admit that my first inclination was to move rapidly in the opposite direction. All of a sudden, Jess made a swift swing with that heavy book and killed a wasp that had settled on my shoulder. Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at my expense and the whole episode that developed in a Bible class while studying God's Word. I do wish Jess had forewarned me so I could have had peace in my heart rather than wondering who was going to speak at my funeral!

A Church On Fire!
Well, not really the church but the building where the congregation met on Martin Street. The family and I were getting ready for Sunday School when Dr. Bob called and informed me that his mother, who lived across the street from the building, said it was on fire! I hurriedly finished getting my clothes on and rushed out. Sure enough, smoke was billowing from the bottom. The fire department was there and the chief asked if I knew where the thermostat was located in the auditorium. Knowing what needed to be done, I made the foolish decision to enter the building.

I had to enter through the first floor of the education complex and walk up a flight of stairs in order to get to the auditorium. Opening the door, the smoke was so thick I could not see anything. So closing my eyes, I walked across the room, felt along the opposite wall from where I had entered and was able to turn off the thermostat so the gas would stop flowing into the furnace. By the time I left the building, coughing had become a problem. However, assuming the building might be burning down, I drove my car to the rear of the building, where my office was located on the first floor of the educational complex and quickly began carrying my precious books through the window, loading them in the trunk of my car.

Preachers always endeavor to build up brethren in the Lord but that day I took an instrument and began to knock holes in the bottom of the building so the firemen could get their hoses underneath the floor of the auditorium and put out the fire. The cause was found. A well meaning Christian lady, who cleaned the building, decided to put a rubber mat on the floor furnace that was located in the small foyer. She didn't realize that when the heat came on, the mat would eventually begin to burn; and it did, along with the flooring in the auditorium.

The preacher's job should be to 'set the church on fire for the Lord', not to break blocks in the lower part of the church building. A rather humorous but serious telephone call from a fellow gospel preacher that Sunday afternoon, who was trying to get his brethren to build a new church building, informed me that the "Lord sent fire to the wrong building". I think he was wishing that the fire had occurred where he was preaching.

The Spirit Was Willing But The Flesh Was Weak
There have been many opportunities given in the lives of preachers to teach the gospel to truth seekers. After the funeral of an aged mother, a couple agreed to study the Bible with me in their home. Following several studies over a period of time, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered their home and the husband, Morris, announced that he and his wife, Pauline, were ready to be baptized. Of course this news made me rejoice; however, before he completed the sentence he stated emphatically that his wife was "scared to death" of having someone place her in water backwards. I smiled and said, "I have never lost a candidate." He replied, "I am being very serious, she is really afraid of being baptized." I encouraged them to get ready and we would to the church building.

Did I mention it was in the middle of winter and it was a very cold night?! Well, it was! I called some family members and friends and we gathered in the building on Martin Street. It was frigid inside the building, so you can imagine how cold the water was in the unheated baptistery.

I showed Morris and Pauline where to go to change into garments we had for those being baptized and told him that I would baptize him first so Pauline could witness how things were going to be done. Putting on rubber waders, which came up to my chest, I walked down the steps into the icy, and I mean icy!, water. I could feel the coldness through my 'baptizing suit'. Morris followed me and I immersed him without any difficulty, except he nearly froze to death.

Now it was time for me to walk across the baptistery to assist Pauline down into the water. She was nervous and freezing at the same time. I remember when her foot touched the water she let out a very loud sound like 'I am going to freeze to death in that water!'. I was finally able to coach her down the steps and into the baptistery. I informed her that the Lord commanded me to immerse her in water and so I told her, due to her great fear, to bend her knees and I would place her into the water forwardly. I made a few remarks and began to place her face first into that frigid water. Then her instinct to survive came into play.

She reached over with her left arm, grabbed hold of the side of the baptistery and I could not get her all the way under the water. She came up and made a chilling sound, shaking because of fear and the cold. It was then that I told her, "Pauline, we are going to do this again because you did not go completely under the water." Well, with some hesitancy, she agreed and we started the whole process again. While placing her face forward into the water, she once more grabbed the side of the baptistery. This time I took her hand off the side and forced her under the water. That was the first and only time I have ever done that in of my experiences of baptizing people.

But that is not the end of the story. When I forced her into the water there was a large splash that caused that icy water to go upward and you know it was going to come back down according to the law of gravity. Well, when it did, the water landed on my head and down into my waders. I was soaked. For two weeks, I was sick with a cold to the point of visiting our family doctor to obtain medicine. But it was worth it. Over the years when I would look at Pauline, she would have a smile on her face, as I did. We both remembered one cold winter's night when she was immersed into Christ for the remission of her sins - in spite of her fear of being put under water by someone.

06 October 2013

Savannah, GA

I often inform people of the fact that all my 'full-time' preaching for various congregations has been in Alabama, except for 2 years of foreign mission work. They will usually inquire as to which 'foreign country'. I will reply, "Savannah, Georgia". You see, I was born in the small town of Trion, Georgia which is located about 35 miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee amongst the ridges and, not far from, Lookout Mountain. This 'hillbilly's' view of any size body of water would have been Blue Pond and the Chattooga River (not the one in NE Georgia). It was a thrill to see the Atlantic Ocean, to watch large ships travel up the Savannah River to Port Wentworth to load and unload their cargo. Ah, seafood, especially shrimp, was in abundance. We moved there in 1959 and you could buy mid-size shrimp for .39 cents per pound!

We did not live in the part of the city of Savannah where there were beautiful homes and historic places to visit. I was amused that one congregation had the name of Bull Street Church of Christ. Due to a multitude of church problems, it was a discouraging 2 years. We did make many friends during our time in Savannah, but the best thing we received while living there was our beautiful daughter, Angela, who along with Tim and Joel made us a family of five.

Almost a Burial In Water But No Resurrection
Talmadge Jenkins was 6 feet plus tall in height. I was still a novice in baptizing people. The baptistery in the church was made of concrete as many were in that time period. By experience over the years, I have learned where to place an individual in the baptistery so there will be no possibility of a head injury. Nowadays, the baptisteries are so large you can almost swim in them. Well, I had not placed this tall individual where I should have, and that would have been nearer to the opposite end of the baptistery where I was going to lay him backwards into the water. As I was laying him down into the water I quickly observed that his head was going to hit the concrete end. However, I was able to pull him toward me and his head barely missed the edge by my laying him down in the corner of the baptistery. With his help, I resurrected him from the watery grave of baptism. If things had been different, I could imagine Talmadge approaching the pearly gates and being asked if he had ever been baptized, and him answering in this fashion, "Yes, in fact, that was the last thing I remember."

When Do I Get To Preach?
He was a friend of one of our families in the congregation. An excellent song leader, the brethren asked him to lead the singing during our worship assembly on that Sunday morning. His song book was different from the ones we were using. You see, it was in Braille. This brother was blind but that did not hinder him from using his God given ability to lead congregational singing in fine fashion.

The custom was that one would lead three songs and then a brother would lead us in prayer. Following the prayer, another song would be sung and then I would bring the morning's lesson. Not this Sunday. After the prayer, our good brother led another song and then another one while I stood behind the pulpit ready, but wait, there's another song to be sung. That was perhaps the shortest sermon I had preached at the Garden City church, and I would suppose that the brethren loved it. We still needed to partake of the Lord's Supper before we were dismissed with prayer. While I was somewhat embarrassed while standing and waiting for the opportunity to speak, I would have never criticized my dear brother in Christ leading us in some beautiful hymns.

Where Did You Get That Name?
Our pediatrician was a fine doctor and a gentleman. Perhaps one of the best you could find in the state of Georgia and in the city of Savannah. We trusted him in his care of our two young sons. One day he stated to Virginia that he knew where we got the name Joel, and then asked where we got the name Timothy. You see, our doctor was Jewish.